Team Approach       (continued from page 1)

Richard Gardner, a Psychiatrist, first identified Parental Alienation Syndrome in the 1980’s when he noticed that some mothers were reluctant to share parenting time and responsibilities with fathers. He noticed that some of these mothers resorted to alienation tactics such as making false accusations of child abuse by the father, and brainwashing the child to reject the father. Dr. Gardner identified 8 symptoms of PAS which have been outlined in his publications.(#1) He recommended in severe cases, that custody be reversed such that the child was placed in the care of the “target parent”. His model still has great influence in the field, however other models are also emerging such as has been articulated by Joan Kelly and Janet Johnston. (#2) They assert that Gardner’s model is too narrow, that PAS exists on a continuum and that there are many variables which influence the emergence of PAS besides the alienating behavior of a hostile parent. They have advocated for a systems approach to assessment and treatment. The clinical literature appears to support a Family Therapy/Systems approach to the treatment of PAS.

It is now recognized that a child may reject a parent for reasons other than PAS. For example, a child who has been abused or a child who feels caught in the middle of a high conflict separation may align with one parent in order to cope with the parental conflict. This is referred to as Parental Alienation or PA which is to be distinguished from PAS which involves systematic and deliberate programming of the child by one parent against the other parent. Canadian and US experts in PA and PAS are now developing diagnostic criteria and Psychological Testing that can reliably identify PA and PAS. It is hoped that the DSM V will include PAS as a Disorder. Dr. Abe Worenklein in Montreal and Dr. Kathleen Reay in Penticton are two of our Canadian experts working on this project.

High conflict families account for about 10 to 20% of separated households and yet they tend to require 90% of the Court’s resources in managing their frequent and damaging disputes. It is the children who suffer the most particularly where PA and PAS dynamics begin to unfold. Dr. Amy Baker has written about the deleterious effects on the development of children and how adult children of PA and PAS families carry the scars of PAS into adulthood.(#3) There are few specialized treatment programs in Canada or the US and few professionals who are trained to treat PA and PAS. Professionals, such as untrained Therapists, Mediators, Parenting Coordinators, Lawyers, Mental Health and Addictions Counsellors and Child Protection Social Workers are at risk of getting entangled in the conflict, becoming triangulated and aligning with one parent or the other. A PAS child can be very convincing, especially if seen alone or with the alienating parent. The Professional can be drawn into a belief that it is in the child’s best interests not to have contact with the rejected parent.